Receivers from Georgia high schools a big part of NFL prospects

Former Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, from Paulding County, talks about his path to the NFL at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

The NFL draft class of 2020 is considered one of the better wide receiver groups in a long time.

“I've got 27 wide receivers with top 3-round grades in this draft,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “And consider an average of 31 are taken. We had a max of 35 taken in, I believe that was in 2017. So this is a really phenomenal group of wideouts.”

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper projected that 25 wide receivers could go in the first three rounds of the draft.

In that group, Georgia high schools will be well-represented.

Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden (Paulding County), Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus (Stratford Academy), Memphis’ Antonio Gibson (Eagle’s Landing) and Tennessee’s Marquez Callaway (Warner Robins) are all trying to impress NFL teams at the NFL scouting combine.

Gandy-Golden measured 6-foot-4 and weighed 223 pounds. He has a massive 77-inch wingspan. He completed 22 lifts of 225 pounds on the bench press Thursday, but will need to show some speed in the 40-yard dash.

He was under-recruited coming out of high school.

“Liberty is the best thing that could have happened to me football wise,” Gandy-Golden said. “Around my junior year, going in to my senior year, the NFL scouts started to come around. I just worked hard and listen to my coaches.

“We got a new coaching staff (led by former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze), and they really came in and changed the whole culture.”

He caught 71 passes for 1,037 yards (14.6 per catch) and 10 touchdowns last season. In 2018, he caught 69 passes for 1,066 yards (15.4 per catch) and 10 touchdowns.

“In the interview process I definitely what to show them that I have what it takes for them to be able to pick me up,” Gandy-Golden said. “Then just the mental side of things and just my character. On the field, I just want to show everybody that I can run. They want to see that of course. I want to give that to them.”

Gandy-Golden played well in the Senior Bowl, and that gave him confidence that he could have played in a major college conference.

“I feel like I belong here,” Gandy-Golden said. “Most of the guys from the Senior Bowl are here. So, just going there and building that confidence over the course of the week was great for me.”

As a youth, Gandy-Golden participated in gymnastics. He didn’t start playing football until high school.

“I feel like (gymnastics) helped my balance, my upper-body strength and my explosiveness,” Gandy-Golden said.

Cephus, of Macon, was a first-team all-state selection by the Georgia Sports Writers Association and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a senior in high school.

How in the heck did he end up in Wisconsin playing for the Badgers?

“When I went there on my visit, my teammates made it look like an environment where I could grow,” Cephus said. “It was a great place academically. It was the total package for what I wanted to do.”

Cephus had a bumpy stay in the dairyland, as he was acquitted in a sexual-assault case that threatened his career.

He rebounded after missing a season to lead the Badgers with 59 catches for 901 yards (15.3 per catch) and seven touchdowns.

“I’m going to show them my love for the game and that I can be a leader,” Cephus said. “I can be a great asset to a team, whichever team that is that takes a chance on me, that I can go up and compete at the highest level.”

Gibson had academic issues coming out of high school and went the junior college route.

“My freshman and sophomore years (of high school) were pretty bad for me,” Gibson said. “Junior and senior year were pretty good, but just weren’t good enough to catch up. JUCO taught me a lot. I had work ethic, but it was different trying to get to that next level.

“You have to have it. It’s a grind like everybody says. I’ve seen some of the best come and leave. To make it out there showed me that I’m capable. I put my head down and went to work and made things happen.”

He made the most of his “Last Chance U.” and went on to Memphis, where he was a versatile weapon as a running back and wide receiver.

“I feel like I do them both pretty well,” Gibson said. “Running back, I feel like I’m more natural there. So, I don’t ever have a problem getting in the backfield.

“Receiver, I kind of got that whole thing. I just need a little learning at running back, probably with pass (protection).”

Gibson, who had an informal interview with the Falcons, is an intriguing prospect.

“I’m hearing it all,” Gibson said. “Some people see me as a running back. Some people see me as receiver. Some people want to use me as a weapon. Some people want me to play special teams.

“Just going through this process, the best thing for me is just being open-minded.”

Callaway averaged 21.2 yards per catch last season while catching 30 passes for 635 yards over 13 starts for the Volunteers. He was also a dangerous punt and kickoff returner.

“A lot of people don’t think I can run,” Callaway said. “I’m here to show that I’m able to run.”

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